If you want to become a PA, which major should you choose? Which should you avoid, and why? How much difference does it really make?
Love the podcast and loved this topic, it couldn’t come at a better time. I’m transferring out of JC and looking into Azusa Pacific’s Allied Health degree. It will have an emphasis on PA and I will minor in Philosophy. Do you think that is boring, cookie cutterish? I would like the honest truth. I am worried of not making it through the program and having a bunk Bachelors, but I can’t find any other major that interests me as much a the science fields. Thanks.
What made you switch from being an MFT to a PA? Does being a PA satisfy your interests in mental health? I’m incredibly fascinated by mental health, and am trying to see if the PA field has room for this. Thanks.
Hi, Johnathan. I became a PA because I love the science, and wanted to be able to prescribe. Yes – mental health PAs are much needed. I use my mental health skills all the time to “treat the whole person.”. Look into it. We have an article on it in our Physician Assistant Specialties page. Just click the section link at the top of the page.
HI paul, My name is rana. And I’m a freshman in college. I’m really interesting in becoming a PA. But at the same time I want to pursue a BSN as a plan B if I didn’t get to PA school the 1st time I apply. I heard that a BSN is not recommended for PA school. So what do you think about that? and what other major that could be a plan B and at the same time would make a strong PA applicant.
PA and NP are different paths. I’m a believer in committing to what you want most, and not spreading yourself thin. I do like that you have a plan B. That said, it sounds like you want to change your major to BSN, right? You will need a BSN for nursing school. I don’t usually recommend getting a BSN unless what you really want is to go into nursing. If you apply to a PA program with a BSN, it might make them wonder why you did that. Why didn’t she become a nurse? Why did she apply to PA school if her plan was nursing? I suggest you do some shadowing and try to figure out which is your preferred path. Then set your sights on that path like a laser. Commit to yourself that you will work toward it until you achieve it. Sometimes (at least with PA school) that means you will need to apply more than once. If your grades are good, you may get in on your first try. But overall I think that if a particular path is what you really want to be the career for the rest of your life (or close to it), then a year or two difference one way or the other isn’t such a big deal. That’s just my opinion. We do offer coaching to help you get more clarity on questions like this. If you’re interested in that, here’s a link to our Teleconsults page.
I am not sure why you keep saying a BSN is not a good major to to pursue if your ultimate goal is to get into PA school— I know may people with BSN’s who go into PA school– remember it is not only getting admitted to PA school but to make it through PA school and nurses probably have the best shot at this, Just my opinion!!!!
Generally having a BSN invites the question “Why are you seeking to become a PA if your original path was nursing?” That doesn’t mean they won’t take you if you have a BSN. But we don’t think it’s advisable because showing you are highly motivated to become a PA (and not a nurse) is one of the crucial requirements for PA school admission.
Hey Paul I’ve been following your blob/site for a few months now and I’ve been really benefitting from all the great info. I find myself becoming more intrigued by the PA profession every time! I’ve been interested in becoming a PA for about a year now and I have about a year left of undergraduate before I apply to a PA program. I’m currently finishing a double major, both in the Kinesiology Dept. I will be getting my BS in Exercise Science and a BA in Health and Fitness Promotion. The BS program has been very advantageous because the course requirements line up perfectly with the pre-reqs I need. I have been working as an EMT for a paid volunteer fire dept for over a year now and I also work as a personal trainer. I was curious what your thoughts were on the majors I’ve chosen and what you thought about my healthcare experience. Also, would my time working as a trainer be considered healthcare experience in some way, shape or form? I look forward to becoming more involved in the blogs as I approach applying and pursuing this career further!
It really depends on the schools to which you are applying. Some will give you credit for personal training (I suspect), and some won’t. Do you know about athletic training? It’s kind of the medicine side of training. If you could score a job in it, you would be given more HCE credit.
I think those are fine majors. You might want to listen to our podcast on the topic of majors.
I would consider athletic training but it’s another 4 year BS degree to fulfill on top of my double major already. I recently acquired a job as a back office MA and I’m still working as an EMT at the fire dept. I think these will benefit me as far as getting HCE! I’ll definitely listen to more of the podcasts! They are very informative and motivating. I’m about a year and half away from applying to the PA program I’m looking at and I’m getting more guidance here than I could imagine. Thank you!
I am currently feeling very undecided on my major and would love some input. I am currently a sophomore and my major is exercise science allied-health track. I was recently told by the health advising program at my college that exercise science is not the best major choice if I want to become a PA in the future. They suggested that I switch to medical laboratory science; the main reason being that I will accumulate clinical hours during the last semester of my senior year. After researching, I saw that many PA schools (even some of the top ranked ones) don’t even require clinical hours for the application process. I was thinking that I could work in a PT office after receiving my bachelor’s in exercise science and get some hours under my belt and then apply to PA schools. What do you think? Could you give me some insight on which major or plan would be the most beneficial in applying to PA school within a year or two after I graduate?
Some schools might want a “harder science” major, such as Biology, but exercise physio/science is usually okay.
I don’t recommend a switch to clinical lab science – though this might seem like a more scientific major, it will not give you much in the way of patient contact hours. In clinical lab science, you’ll probably spend more time working in a lab than with patients. The job description for clinical laboratory scientist usually involves little or no patient contact.
In terms of prerequisites, I’m not sure if by “clinical hours” you’re referring to patient contact hours. If you are: there may be a few that don’t require patient hours, but that doesn’t mean that you’ll be competitive without them. YOU NEED PATIENT CONTACT HOURS AKA HEALTH CARE EXPERIENCE. Pick a major that might make it easy to get a job working with patients when you graduate.
Hey Paul, I stumbled at your website because i’m trying to decided on what to major in my Bachelors degree . Currently, I am a certified nursing assistant but I want to further my career and I’m very interested in the PA program, Doesn’t it matter what major you choose.? . Do most PA school look at your major or do they concentrate on how you did on the PA Pre-requisites.?. I want to do major in something that I can be able to fall back into in case I don’t get in the PA program. Thanks for you blog
I think I’ll stand with what it says in the podcast. Have you listened to it yet? If not, it should answer your question.
Quick question Paul,
Would a healthcare administratiion bachelors with a minor in spanish be interesting combination enough to get me an interview? I am originally Dominican and I speak fluent Spanish, and I would be interested in continuing my education with my Spanish influence but perhaps make into Spanich medical terminology. What do you think? By the way I love your blog and I know it will be a point of reference throughout my entire journey into my PA experience. I am that confident I will get in 😉
I Loved your Podcast. It was great and very informative!
Exactly what I’ve been looking for. 🙂
I am still left with a question though. Thinking about it now, I really enjoy Psychology, so if I were to major in Psychology and have healthcare experience, along with having taking required courses like anatomy and such, Would i have a good chance of getting into a PA School?
I don’t know about your chances specifically, but psychology is a fine pre-PA major if it interests you enough that you will do well at it.
Currently working on a BS in Nutritional Science/Dietition and certified as a ACE personal trainer. Will my work experience as a personal trainer qualify for HCE? Do you suggest that I do the post graduate internship to acquire/be certified as a registered dietition before applying to PA school?
You may get some credit for it, but I wouldn’t expect much. Although I’m sure you learned plenty as a personal trainer, it isn’t considered medical work with patients.
I am currently majoring in Psychology BA. Will the Bachelor of Arts have any affect in my getting into a PA school since it seems like BS would be right one? My school doesn’t offer a BS in Psychology, that’s why.
No. Psychology is considered an “of Arts” degree in some schools and and “of Science” degree in others, even though their core curricula is always very similar, if not the same. Just make sure you have the required sciences, and do well in them. You might consider a medically-related minor to round out your application.
Hi Paul. I’m currently taking general education courses and preparing to transfer to CSULA in a yr and a half. Because i have 5 yrs of experience working in HIV in the nonprofit sectors, I feel Public Health would be the B.S. to pursue. What are your thoughts? Help! BTW, USC’s PA program is my goal.
Public health is good major. It probably won’t have you interacting much with individual patients, but that’s okay – you can always do some more time with patients after (if you need more time – sounds like you may have some good HCE already).
I know this is a very old post, but I just stumbled across this website today, and it has been beyond helpful. I listened, and heard what you said about grades. My major is dietetics, which, if you are not familiar, includes all of the prerequisites I need for my desired PA program (biology, microbiology, inorganic and organic chemistry, etc.). So far, I have done very well in all of my non science courses (all A’s), and I have done pretty well in my other science courses. Unfortunately, chem 1 was one of the first classes I took in college, so I didn’t know how to study for it and received a B. I took chem 2 and received an A. I also have gotten an A in biology, but a B in microbiology. Do you think my chances are shot, or should I just keep working hard at my other sciences (like A&P and organic chemistry) which I have yet to take?
Sorry this was so long,
No, Maeve – those grades are not bad at all. I would say you have as good a chance at getting into PA school as anyone. There are, of course, many other details involved with getting in. But a few B’s is not a game changer. Get the best grades you can and then apply.
I attended an information session for pa school asking if they liked registered nursing and the admissions guy said he wished more would apply. I guess since most of the students who apply are bio majors they don’t stand out. He said most who have applied do not have enough experience and being a registered nurse of course I do. I’m very happy I attended that session. I make great money and if I don’t get accepted I still have a great carrier. Bio majors who don’t get accepted are stuck with a degree they can’t do anything with like so many of my friends.
I am wondering how your experience in applying to PA school is going. My daughter is investigating Nursing while looking to PA school, but concerned that may not be attractive major, although to me it makes a great deal of sense.
How has your process gone?
I am new to this whole thing! I am wanting to be a PA but currently I am not in a career in the medical field. I am starting college in the fall and wanted to know what would be the best major for my BS. I am seeing science degrees like biology, and Paul I think you mentioned psychology. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated! I am also trying to be certain I attempt to accomplish as many of the pre-requisites as possible within that degree so I am not spending extra time on those once I graduate just be eligible for PA school. Thanks!!
College is no time to specialize, in my opinion. Have the full experience – be well rounded. Do this by picking a major that interests you and and will teach you relevant skills and concepts. Just because you want to become an architect doesn’t mean you have to major in architecture. That’s crazy! Architects often major in engineering, design, drafting, materials science, art, art history, or math.
One trick ponies are a dime a dozen; well rounded people are PRICELESS.
Hi Paul or anyone else. I realize this is an old post But I am a high school student that needs some help. I have shadowed and met with many PA’s now I am very confident in my choice that I want to peruse this career. I am having a very difficult time finding a good bachelors to go on. I was wondering if you could tell me some that will prepare me very well. I have considered RN, RT, ultrasound tech and many others I just don’t know what will really help prepare me. your insight would be greatly appreciated.
Caleb – I suggest you get a bachelors degree in something that you will enjoy. You will have more fun, get more out of it, and do better if you do. Try to pick something that is related to medicine if you can. If that’s RN or RT, that could be okay, but they might wonder why you majored in RN and didn’t become one. Biology? Chemistry? Psychology? What do you like?
Over the last few days I came down to decision on radiology tech. If you don’t mind me asking. Do you live pretty happy on your salery?
Hello Paul or anyone else, I am a student in CalstateFullerton and just finished all the general education classes. I want to pursue PA as my career but I dont know whether I should stick with Health Science B.S or changing it to BioChem B.S. Can you give me any recommendations? Thanks Paul.
Either one will work. Pick the major that interests you the most – you’re more likely to do well in it. And don’t pick the major based on how much you think it will impress them.
If I major in nutrition and become a nutritionist at a hosptial or clinic, could I eventually become a PA?
I’m currently a Respiratory Therapist at UCLA medical center(3000 hours+ experience full time) and can’t decide if I should go to CSULA for BS in public health or UCLA for BA in human biology and society. Which school/major would look more valuable and better acceptance chance? I would enjoy either major. I won’t want to do a BS at UCLA because the requirements are far too great for PA and more medical school related so that’s not in my options. Thanks in advance!
Either degree would work. Human Biology would be the most relevant of the two, but pick the one that you think interests you more – you will do better with it.
I’m currently enrolled in a General Studies Program at a community college. My original plan was to transfer to a 4-year school and major in Human Services. After I received my bachelor’s, I had every intention of applying to a PA program. However, I just found out that Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences offers a 6 year PA program in which they combine both undergrad and MS. If I were to choose this option instead, I would be spending a lot more money but it may be worth it. Is there any way you can guide me into the right direction?
That program is a neat option, but it’s VERY pricey. Keep in mind, PA school is only 2 years – if you are in much more than the average debt when you get out (because you basically went a private school for 6 years) you’re going to be working off that debt for a LONG time. 29K per year (If I’m reading it right) is a LOT for undergrad. Then you will owe about 67K for your PA. Walking out $175K in debt will chain you to your debt for a long time. I wouldn’t want that, but you are basically paying for two things: 1) doing 6 years all in the same place, and 2) a guarantee you will get into a PA program.
I attend college in Jan.2015. I wanted to know what should I major in to get my associates bachelors n masters to become a PA.
When applying to a PA school, does it really make a difference if you have a degree from a UC or CSU? Is kiniseology recognized as a “good” degree to major in for PA school? CSU’s don’t offer bs in Kiniseology…
CSU vs UC matters far less than how well you did, and the relevance of your major. Kiniseology relates to health, so if it really floats your boat, do it. There are more “ideal” majors, but there are many worse ones too.
I’m currently in my last semester of a respiratory therapy program. I’ve been contemplating on which bachelors degree to work towards for almost 2 years now. I can’t decide between health science, community health minoring in nutrition, or health administration! Now that I’m almost done with the RT program I have to pick from one of them as soon as possible. I know it’s crazy how long I’m taking. Can you please give me some advice on which direction I should take? Thanks for your time Paul!
If you want to go to PA school, then I would say avoid healthcare administration. That’s a management-type degree. Health Science would be fine. I don’t know about community health – I would need to see the curriculum. If it’s more like health education, then it would not be ideal. Don’t forget about other soft-ish sciences like kinesiology, nutrition, and psychology.
Currently I’m majoring in environmental science. Is this a good pre-PA major? I know it doesn’t directly deal with patient care but it’s still a science degree and a lot of biology classes are required for this major. Please let me know what you think?
It’s not ideal. Environmental Science deal with the Earth, but not really much with people. But if you are enjoying it, I would encourage you to continue, as long as you are doing well. Good grades in an obliquely related course are better than bad ones in a directly related one.
I am currently a high school senior and I am in between two colleges currently: I was accepted into the Drexel accelerated PA program for one (in which the matriculation from the program to the school is around 75%) and I was also accepted into PSU. I personally love PSU and I cannot see myself anywhere else, but would it be a smarter choice to pick Drexel, seeing that I would already be in a program? (not taking into account the money aspect- scholarships and aid have made both college around the same price)
I guess it depends on how good a student you are. If you’re strong, then you can say with more confidence that you would get into a PA program after PSU if you went that route. I’ve never been a huge fan of combined BS/BA + PA programs. There so much uncertainty about life when you’re 18. Maturity is also an issue — it takes time to be ready for this field. The average age of matriculation for PA school is 27! But if your heart’s set on it, I guess Drexel is the “bird in hand” compared to PSU’s “two in the bush.”
What do you think of the new “Public Health” major that is increasingly being offered?
Meh. Not sexy for PA school. But better than music or poly sci.
I just graduated from high school this year and looking foward to become a PA.
i was researching about my college major and saw your post and made me not take those bio or chem major. If that was the case… Then I might have done something else.
Anyways, i was going to major in nursing Just in case that i cannot be a PA. But my community college doesn’t have nursing major … If I want to transfer to UC and get bachelors degree in nursing, do I have to go to another CC where they have nursing program??
And heard there is this faster way to become PA by completing physician assistant bachelor’s degree (ba-pa) and then take the PANCE. I want to do this but i am going to CC this year and then transfer to UC. Am i qualified for this although im a transfer student?
If so do you recommand this? If not why not? And which school provides this??i live in california bayarea.
Jina, you raise some complicated questions. First, there’s no reason not to major in Biology or Chemistry if those are subjects that excite you and you feel you can do well in. The point is that you shouldn’t major in them because you feel it’s expected of you and you aren’t jazzed about them.
I don’t recommend trying to straddle nursing and PA — it can land you in a minefield. You may get stuck in nursing and not have your heart in it. BA-PA programs are often expensive. They also force you into a PA track early on. A lot of college freshmen and sophomores think they know what they want to do for a career, but end up changing their mind. If you’re in a program like that, changing your mind is tough. My advice: learn from the tortoise and hare parable, because the tortoise ALWAYS wins. I didn’t want to hear it when I was your age, but if I had listened, I might have found my way to the career of my dreams a lot sooner. Take your time. Get a BS/BA in a field that you like that is at least somewhat related to medicine (not art/music, by psych or nutrition could be okay, as examples) with excellent grades. Once you have your degree, put in some sweat and study as an EMT or a EKG tech or radiology tech, or medical assistant. When you have enough hours to apply, do so. If you follow this route, you’ll probably be ready to apply at age 25, and you’ll probably get in.
I am currently a junior majoring in Biology (BS) and have just discovered the world of the PA. At first I wanted to become a physician, but knowing myself well I knew the PA route is for me. I’m definitely keeping my Biology major but thinking of adding on a Psychology minor. Would this be a good idea? I’ve always loved psychology and I see most programs recommend psych classes. Also, I am hoping this will raise my gpa as well. I plan on going an extra year so I have time to do so (hopefully raise it to ~3.2/3.3). If I kill the GRE and become more well-rounded, do I stand a decent chance? I struggled my freshman year but have improved tremendously the past 2 semesters; therefore I am hoping to continue and the admissions see my upward trend and how I’ve corrected and learned from my mistakes/arrogance/naiveness/etc. I also just received my EMT certification so I plan on having ~2000+ hours of paid direct patient care.
Hi, Casey! Bio with a Psych minor is a great combination. I was a Bio major with a Psych minor. It’s too hard for me to tell you your chances; there are just too many variables, and admissions is very subjective. But I advocate for going toward what you love. If you do, you will almost always get places you’re glad you made it to.
I am currently attending a community college for general ed classes but I am composting on what major to transfer to a 4 year university to. I have several major in mind either biology, nutritional health, kinesiology natural science but bio does not really seem to intresting me as the other majors. I have worked in the medical field as a medical assistant for 3 years now and I would like to if experience in the medical field gives me a benefit in getting into a PA program or I should I stick to bio?
We stand by what we said in this article. If you want a little more detail, you should listen to what we said in our podcast episode on pre-PA majors, which goes into it further (click).
Hello my major is Anthropology BA, once I transfer I’m going to try to switch my major to a BS in Anthropology.My school doesnt offer a BS, and as for summer ans winters classes I would take the missing science classes. How does that sound, or should I just major in Bio?
Either way is fine. Do whichever you think you will enjoy more.
Thanks for the reply, but in your opinion do you think Anthropology would be looked down upon, or is it too broad? Would PA schools prefer more science oriented students. Like would they pick a PSychology student over an ANthropology student you think? My worry is the PA school thinking its to vague, similar to a PA school looking at a art student trying to apply to PA school.
All things being equal, anthropology probably isn’t as good a major for PA school as biology. Anthropology is indirectly relevant, but biology is directly relevant to the study and practice of medicine.
Hello-I’m going to be a senior in high school. I will be applying to colleges this fall. I’m interested in becoming a PA. I have heard that you have a better chance of getting into a PA school if you go to the same school as an undergraduate. Is there truth to this? Also, what are some popular majors as an undergraduate that are helpful for becoming a PA? When looking at universities this fall, who would have the best information to help me make my decisions? Which departments should I talk with?
In general, no, going to school X as an undergraduate doesn’t improve your chances of getting into school X’s PA program later. That would be favoritism, and most universities work hard not to be perceived that way.
The only exception would be that if you went to school X, in your interview you could make a more convincing case for how familiar you are with school X and that that factors into why you want to go to PA school there. Many students have a hard time articulating why they want to go to a particular program, and PA schools don’t want students who “just want to go anywhere,” they want students who really want to go to their school.
Popular pre-PA majors: biology, anatomy, physiology, nutrition, kinesiology, psychology — pretty much anything that relates to health. But you can major in other things too, as long as you 1) do well in your science pre-reqs and 2) can convince them that your desire to become a PA is genuine and not just a phase.
I suggest you talk with an academic advisor in one of the departments that you hope to major in.
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